Perception of the Outsiders in the Ancient World


Perceptionof the Outsiders in the Ancient World

Perceptionof the Outsiders in the Ancient World

Comparingthe perception of outsiders

Theevolution of the Persian and the Greek collided with the Roman Empirein the western end of Eurasia and the China state on the eastern sidethat were taking shape. The empires prospered at similar times,occupied similar regions, and comprised of a population of the samesizes. They were large empires of their period, as they shaped livesof more than half of the global inhabitants. Dissimilar to the Greeksand the Persians way of life, the Chinese and the Romans wereindistinctly mindful of each other and little or even none directcontact. However, the historians found them to be an interestingdistinction on the superb theme and have discovered their connectionsand dissimilarities.

Therelative study of the ancient world of Eurasia remains in its initialstages. When it comes to the roles of the social, economic, politicalfeatures, etc. we stand at the very foundation of some reasonableengagement. In the ancient world, every ruler had to validate whatthey do to themselves, their community, and those they lead. TheRomans had a liberal world-view in which they strategizedproductively through art, construction, literature, writing, etc.Some of these elements were transformed during the existence of theempires. The most crucial theme was the notion that Rome representedharmoniously and a decent government1.As such, those communities such as the Persians, Egyptians, andGermanic people among others that were in conflict with Rome wereperceived as barbarous, dangerous and, ungovernable. Romans used theterm barbaric to describe the foreigners who did not speak Greek andhad not acquired the Roman traditions2.

Thiswas specifically referenced to the large numbers of people who weretrespassing in their borders. Similarly, the Xiongnu people wereperceived as an “alien” community from the cultured Chinese, whosettled in uncivilized areas and wandered around herding animals.Sima Qian depiction of the primitive tribes can be seen from thecultural traits that the Chinese had, that isolated them from otherpeople3.We can observe that Sima Qian had a varying perception about theXiongnu. Such characters comprised traits that are noted by theauthors. They kept unusual animals like wild horses, mules, camels,etc. They did not live in permanent homes and in times of hardship,they relied on raiding, they dressed in hides and fur, during periodsof battle, cruelty was rewarded, they would inherit every itembelonging to someone when they bring back their corpse, among otherthings4.

Didthe authors notice the same features of the societies?

Inthe ancient Eurasian, two historians presented detailed descriptionsof the people living in their separate empires across the ferociouslycontested boundaries. Tacitus, a Roman, researched on the Germanicpeople whereas the Sima Qian of Chinese studied the Xiongnu who werea nomadic steppe population. Although the Germanic and the Xiongnucultures were different from one another, it is positive to say thatboth Tacitus and Sima Qian noted several features of similarities intheir depictions of their societies. Each author was able to pointout what is deemed as an offensive feature of the barbarian society5.They do so by deploying languages and descriptions that would beterrifying to the civilized ritual crowns. Both Tacitus and Sima Qianwere conscious of the liberating potentials of lives in barbarism.

Theywere able to observe that both Germanic and the Xiongnu lived in anenvironment that was free from material disorder. This implies thatthey enjoyed the greatness of personal independence that was unheardof to the Chinese and the Romans6.In the empire of interactive relationship, both Tacitus and Sima Qianpropose that their barbarian foreigners may be somewhat truthful tothe values of devotion and piousness to their own Romans and Chinesenationals.

Didthey focus on what was exotic or different rather than what they mayhave been familiar?

Fromthe authors’ depictions, I can vividly say that they focused onboth what was different and what they are familiar with. It isexciting to note the manner in which the outlook of the authorsinterchanges between a focus on decency and the cruelty of theirsubjects. In some instances, the writers would influence images so asto point out his people`s corruption and the deterioration of meritsof past golden age. In other cases, they would emphasize on thesimplicity and rudeness of barbarism characters and beliefs imitatingtheir preconceptions as intellects the two great empires of theEurasian world. And in other cases, they would make observations thatdid not damage their subjects or support political and socialcriticism.

Didthey adopt similar posture towards the people they were describing?

Itis interesting to note that both authors gave similar positionstowards the societies they were describing. Given that both Tacitusand Sima Qian reported different and nuanced outlook and depictionsof their subjects, we are fascinated by the fact that quite a numberof their images and formal themes do mirror each other and can befound in both of their works. A description of the primitive societynecessitates a depiction of the primitive homeland. In Tacitus case,he wonders why some people would choose to live in Germania6.

Onthe other hand, Sima Qian does not give an isolated description ofthe Xiongnu region7.In both societies, the native land is positioned in a secluded withunfriendly climates where no one would choose to

Werethey simply reporting what they observed or were they makingjudgments as well

FromSima Qian’s section “Just like Tacitus, who occasionally observedand described the neighboring barbaric nations and their history”,it can thus be noted that both writers observed and made judgments ontheir subjects8.Tacitus wrote about Germania, a foreign land however, he did so atgreat lengths. His description is concluded with an emotionalcaptivation which does not consent to something other thansuperficial analysis90.

Towhat extent do they reveal information about the societies of thosedoing the reporting as opposed to those being reported on

Limitedinformation is provided concerning the societies of those doing thereporting as opposed to those being reported on. As such, we can onlynote in the texts that Tacitus was a Roman who was concerned with theGermanic people that were from a foreign place, whereas, Sima Qiancould only be identified as coming from the Chinese descent. Much oftheir reporting is based on the depiction of the barbaric people andtheir past.


Snell,James. When Historians write About the Past, Are they Nearly AlwaysWriting about the Present. Retrieved from,2015.

Woolf,Daniel. Aglobal history of history.Cambridge University Press, 2011.

1 Snell, 2015

2 Woolf, 2011

3 Woolf, 2011

4 Woolf, 2011

5 Snell, 2015

6 Woolf, 2011

7 Woolf, 2011

8 Woolf, 2011

9 Snell, 2015